Finding Your Rhythm: How To Practice At The Perfect Tempo

When you practice it’s important to consider tempo. Practicing at different tempi is incredibly important. Don’t think that slow practice only comes when you first start new music.

practicing piano at different tempos

Having the discipline to play at different tempi is a challenge in itself. We all want to play our new music at the tempo suggested by the composer. This isn’t an easy thing to do so we need to start somewhere.

I’d like to make four suggestions today

  • What the best tempo is

  • Slow practice

  • Medium tempo practice

  • Performance tempo practice

#1: What’s the best tempo to practice at?

This is the golden question that everyone wants to know the answer to.

I’ve been following a fine pianist for a number of years now called Graham Fitch. Take 2 seconds to Google him and you’ll see how much content he has created.

He always suggests, and I wholeheartedly agree, that we should practice at the speed of no mistakes.

It’s the simplest approach to picking a tempo. If you’re playing your music and making mistakes, slow it down until you play it with no mistakes.

The issue here is that you might be able to play 90% of your repertoire with no mistakes however there is a stubborn 10% that isn’t working. In that case, refer to my article Tips to Overcome Musical Challenges. Once you’ve gone through that, practice the 10% at the speed of no mistakes.

#2: Slow Practice

This is the tempo suggestion you’ll hear all over the internet. Slow and deliberate practice is the best way to build those neural pathways which build strong foundations.

What is a neural pathway? Imagine your brain is like a new forest. You need to find your way to a location in the forest. At first there is no path. However, the more you visit that location, a path begins to form.

The brain works like this too. Keep working on your music and at some point the path becomes so well trodden that you can play your music with ease.

Once you can play your repertoire don’t stop your slow practice. It’s good to use slow tempi to help you warm up. It’s also good to help perfect those passages you don’t have 100% confidence in playing.

practice piano a lot to create neural pathways

#3: Medium Tempo Practice

As you can imagine, medium tempo falls somewhere between slow and preformance tempo practice.

It’s important to avoid only doing slow and performance speed practice. Your brain needs time to build on the slow tempo. You’ve done the hard work. Laid strong foundations. Next you need to build tempo gradually.

Medium tempo practice means you can start to find any new cracks that might start to form when you’re playing. When they appear, focus on them.

#4: Performance Tempo Practice

Before you finish a piece and move on to the next one. Or, if you’re going to perform your music at a concert, audition or exam, you need to practice performance.

Find the tempo that feels most musical. Make sure to be playing through your music at this tempo frequently until it feels easy.

When you’re doing your performance practice, try to pull in a small crowd. It could be one friend or a couple of family members. It doesn’t matter. This is where you really start to learn the piece.

In Summary

You may have noticed that there are no tempo markings mentioned this article. Slow, medium and performance tempo practice is all subjective.

If you’re stuck and want a suggestion, take a piece that you’re working on. Calculate the tempo you’re playing at and half it. Take that as your slow practice.

You might be surprised that you can’t play your music at half the speed. To me, that just means you don’t know the music as well as you think you do. Maybe there are some new places to work on.

Try different tempi to discover how well you know your music.

If you’re learning piano and would like some help I can provide the following.

The Lighter Touch is for people learning piano in their own time. I am available for support with video responses to your questions. Along with that, you would get access to a growing library of live support sessions and loads of free sheet music.

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